I never would have imagined that a close reading of psalms would have elicited in me such a strong reaction to our political times. But so far, they have. I am overwhelmed with emotion when I read David's words; surrounded by roaring waves of righteousness, which is not necessarily a good thing. The poetry is powerful, beautiful, revolutionary; and dangerous, shattering, destructive. Beware, one might say, upon committing to such a reading. When in the poetic hands of epic greatness, the soul truly is moved. And yet the psalms are performative. They are a kind of ritual theater of one man's soul, writ-large, upon the body politic of a people.
10. The ruthless ones deny morality and oppress the weak. They are so good at it! And the vast tools in their arsenal, so seemingly difficult to overcome: cursing and deceit; oppression, mischief and iniquity; those who capture the poor, caught up in a lion's lair of greed and destruction. David's mind stretched in angry directions at the injustices he saw and reading his words in our own economy of frustrating dislocation, one thinks of contemporary schemers and predatory lenders, taking advantage of unskilled labor and offering excessively low pay. Capture the immigrant at the border; extort his meager wage; deny her health care. How does one actually escape such a trap? How awful that in a three thousand year span, such human greed continues! And David charges ahead, shield in hand, saying that where such greed darkens life's horizons, there is no God. His cry is meant to break the darkness, crack open the shell, reveal the light: Break the arm of the wicked! Search out the evil of the wicked til none be found! The Eternal is King forever, the nations are temporary; God hears the desires of the humble. The hearing ear and the beating heart must correct the life of the orphan and the oppressed. But as enticing as it sounds, it's so hard to do. The brilliance of the poetry is that it's realized in the heart and the mind but the body must forge ahead, inspired by the words, but forced to plod along, one step at a time, hastening, though waiting, for redemption.
11. I need to calm down. David finally brings the bird. He must have known that guys like me would be freaking out at this point in the reading. Painter of words, he brings the bird. A flash of light, wing and wind. Even truth, at times, needs to hide, to preserve, and await a greater battle down the road. "In the Eternal have I taken refuge; how say ye to my soul: 'Flee thou! to your mountain, ye bird?" God won't save you, you have to save yourself, preserve yourself, be responsible for yourself, and sometimes that means withdrawing, if only temporarily, for a greater act of repair to follow. Incredulous as the poet may be--"How could you say that?"--he nonetheless must retreat. For he knows the truth: "When the foundations are destroyed, what hath the righteous wrought?" Oh, how grim indeed! How utterly debased is the society!
The Sages tell a story about Shimon bar Yochai, after the Roman conquest, unable at first to see the new society--he was still traumatized by the loss of sovereignty. Eventually, however, not unlike that bird, he could emerge from his cave and see a new order, a new potential for a new world. "The Eternal is righteous, God loves righteousness, the upright shall behold God's face." Which is to say, it will happen. You just have to wait; and you also have to make it happen.
12. On the sheminith, a stringed instrument, lower by an octave than the usual harp. The low, sure, comforting tone. Swing low, sweet chariot. Is he still in the cave, singing? "Save, Source of Life, for there are no more righteous ones. The faithful fail from among the children of man." Metaphor slips from music to metal and the poet recasts the narrative, the fire burns and melts the material of suffering into a new mold, a new paradigm. Where the oppressed are defended and made to dwell in safety; where the words of the Eternal are pure; as silver tried in the crucible on the earth, refined seven times, like a new myth of creation.
Again, no miracles, if you think about it. Only word and deed. Wing, sun and air. Metal and earth. A promise from God, to be realized for sure; but only if we act in accord of our own song, rendered true by a prophet's view and the poet's rallying cry to build the world yet again.